AN EXCEPTIONAL DESTINY
Maria Montessori became the first woman doctor in Italy. Within her overall approach she also graduated in biology, pedagogical anthropology, psychology and philosophy.
After she graduated in Medicine she joined University of Rome Psychiatric Clinic where she learned about the miserable conditions of mentally ill children. Thus, driven by passion, she sought how to help them: "I was obsessed for years on what to do with these unfortunate beings, so as to enable them to re-enter human society placing human dignity within their grasp."
She discovered the works of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin who both devoted their lives to children who are « different » denying they suffered an incurable illness. She used their materials and pedagogical method as a basis for her work.
Thanks to the implemented caring environment and pedagogical approach she soon reported results regarded as "miraculous". In fact, some of her little pupils start to read and write fluently, even passing exams aimed for "normal" children.
According to Maria Montessori, the specific support which enables them to be "helped in their psychical development" is responsible for these results. By contrast, she wondered about the reasons which led "normal" children to fail in those exams.
She became then convinced that an educational method, based on rigorous analysis of physiological and psychical phenomena, in an attentive and caring environment, would be favourable for all children without exception. She decided to devote herself fully to this task.
The child as a subject
In 1904, Maria Montessori was appointed as a lecturer in Pedagogical Anthropology at Rome University. She defended an innovative conception of the child: the child as a subject and not the object of her learning. The child is not "a glass to fill, but water bubbling from the spring". And this conception of the child, also questioned the role of the adult. It was a true paradigm shift in the Italian culture, society and family of the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1906, the Mayor of Rome entrusted her with the opening of schools in the depressed slum neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, to look after children abandoned and left to care for themselves from 3 to 6 years old. On the 7th January 1907, she opened the first Children’s House (Casa dei Bambini).
Learning and joy of life
Maria observed, analysed, created, modified and consistently rethought her own thoughts, her materials and the way to transmit them. She developed her pedagogical method based on experimentation and observation. The results were immediate: children began to settle down and showed an appetite to learn and a perceptible joy of life. She completely abandoned her other works and focused on developing a pedagogy based on a rigorous analysis of the physiological and psychic phenomena of children development, as well as in care and attention.
Several Children Houses were created throughout Italy and around the world. She, herself, trained 5,000 educators. Nowadays there are over 20,000 schools worldwide
In the twenties she co-founded the International League for New Education and especially during the congresses she presented her research works and met other great pedagogues of this movement.
She was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize for her book Education and Peace (DDB).
Her son Mario Montessori continued the work until 1982, when he passed away.